LIVING COLOUR – Shade
The spirit of Robert Johnson would come to haunt – and serve as creative fuel – for one of the best bands New York City (and rock n roll) has ever produced.
In 2012, Living Colour was invited to take part of the centennial celebration for the blues griot at the legendary Apollo Theater. With little time to sift through what’s already a limited song catalog – Johnson only recorded 29 tracks before his untimely death at the age of 27 – the high powered New York City based quartet did what they have done throughout their near 30 year run: They took the road less traveled and forged a new path.
Bypassing such gems as ‘Crossroads’, ‘Love In Vain’, or ‘Come on in My Kitchen’, Living Colour decided to perform ‘Preachin’ Blues’ with an arrangement that owed more to Led Zeppelin than it did Muddy Waters. Anchored by Corey Glover vocal acrobatics, they added a whole lotta electrocution to it, transforming the song in a blooze rock stomper and all but stole the show.
Amped by the performance, arrangement and the response, the group began a five year musical exploration that found them using the blues as a foundation in everything from rock n roll, electro funk, R&B, and hip hop. The new album Shade marks yet another startling new chapter, with each track proudly showing off the fruitful results of their journey. Working once again with Andre Betts (Madonna, Chaka Khan, Lenny Kravitz), it covers the blues fabric from The Mississippi Delta (‘Preachin’ Blues’), New Orleans (‘Who’s That featuring Big Sam Johnson of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band), Detroit (‘Inner City Blues’), right up to Bed Stuy (‘Who Shot Ya’) – performed with swagger, muscle and, above all, attitude.
This isn’t by any means a retro project – Living Colour has always been a band of the moment, and in the moment. ‘Come On’ is a funk infused rocker that stands to be a future anthem. ‘Always Wrong’ features a slinky bass line from Doug Wimbish and shows that while they will always be a kickass rock band, Colour can write a contemporary pop song as good as anyone. That said, ‘Glass Teeth’ and ‘A Pattern in Time’ (complete with a sly reference to their 1990 title track ‘Time’s Up’) proudly waves the rock n roll banner high. ‘Blak Out’ finds the group experimenting with a funk/dub hybrid and the closing ‘Both Sides’ – featuring a guest appearance by the one and only George Clinton – has the band in full Funkadelic mode.
While the blues is the running thread, the album also taps into today’s political climate. ‘Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.)’ is an all-sides look at how speaking one’s mind has consequences, good and bad. ‘Program’ is a biting take on the impact so-called ‘reality shows’ have made on everyday life. Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’ – done here as an elephant-sized rocker – still sounds like it could’ve been written yesterday. ‘Who Shot Ya?’, retrofits Notorious B.I.G.’s classic into a biting look at gun violence in America.
Shade finds the band is firing on all cylinders: 30 years into the game, vocalist Corey Glover once again proves he’s one of rock’s top vocalists showing no signs of losing his edge and power. The same goes for Vernon Reid, slicing and dicing with volcanic power chords and a blizzard of solos throughout each song. Behind every great rock band is a top flight rhythm section and they don’t get any better than Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun. They have redefined the definition of ‘locked in’. Producer Andre Betts has also made his presence felt, incorporating new sonic nuances into the tracks without sacrificing the band’s essence.
It might have been 8 years between releases, but all great works of art are done with time, care and love. It’s an instant classic and one of the year’s best. Shade by Living Colour is available now through Amazon, iTunes and all major music retailers.